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Merging development groups

mendiola MARK


When he addressed a large crowd of eastern Idaho business and government leaders May 30 at Idaho Central Credit Union’s state headquarters in Chubbuck, Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer acknowledged there has been some resistance to merging the economic development agencies of Bannock, Bingham and Bonneville counties into one entity.

Accompanied by Idaho Labor Department Director Ken Edmunds, Sayer spoke at a Regional Economic Development Initiative gathering sponsored by ICCU, Pocatello Medical Center and Idaho National Laboratory. Those attending included INL Director John Grossenbacher, five mayors from the region and congressional representatives.

Similar meetings were held at Idaho Falls in February and Blackfoot in March to address possibly creating a single economic development organization for the region.

Some Pocatellans have expressed concerns that the drive to merge Bannock Development Corporation with Grow Idaho Falls Inc. and Bingham Economic Development Corporation will be to the advantage of Idaho Falls and Blackfoot at Pocatello’s expense.

Sayer said he has heard some refer to creating an eastern Idaho economic development organization “a hostile takeover” and express misgivings that the matter is being forced on them. Others have wanted it created as soon as June.

“There’s a lot of mistrust under the surface,” the commerce director said, mentioning he has heard frustrations that are 10 years old. “If this fails, it will not be resurrected in our professional lifetimes.”

He urged those in attendance to proceed slowly, clarify their message and listen to each other. Combined, eastern Idaho’s work force is the second largest in the state. The Interstate 15 corridor has “a powerful collection of assets,” he said, noting it took Magic Valley 10 years to hit its stride and perfect its business model.

“If eastern Idaho comes together, the ‘great state of Ada’ would wonder what in the heck happened,” Sayer remarked.

Sayer said Idaho is “a long ways behind” competing with other states, some of which are merging as regional forces in the Southeast and the Midwest. He agreed with Mike Mullis of J.M. Mullis, Inc., a project location specialist, who said Idaho has an identity problem. Mullis assisted in bringing a new Clif Bars bakery to Twin Falls.

Sayer emphasized that Idaho boasts robust aerospace, manufacturing and energy industries in addition to its agricultural strengths.

Edmunds said a central focal point or voice is needed to represent regional economic development, but local organizations also need to be retained in some format. He also suggested an independent group be brought in to evaluate the eastern Idaho economic development issue.

The state labor director said some way also needs to be found to hire an executive director to lead the regional organization for at least three years with a focus primarily on marketing. “Don’t consider this a compromise,” Edmunds said.

John Regetz, Bannock Development’s executive director, noted that most initial contacts by outside companies are with the Idaho Department of Commerce, which directs them to existing economic development organizations within the state.

At a Bannock Development investors reception earlier in the week, Regetz discussed the shutdown of the Heinz food plant and Hoku polysilicon plant, which has impacted about 650 jobs in Pocatello. He said his agency is working closely with prospective buyers of the Heinz food plant and cooperating with JH Kelly in brokering the Hoku property.

Participants at the Regional Economic Development Initiative event included Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England, ICCU CEO Kent Oram, Idaho Labor Department Regional Economist Dan Cravens, Citizens Community Bank CEO Ralph Cottle, Portneuf Medical CEO Dan Ordyna, ON Semiconductor General Manager John Spicer, North Wind and Grow Idaho Falls representative Ann Riedesel and Idaho State University Business Dean Thomas Ottaway.

INL Program Manager Stephanie Cook and ICCU Marketing Specialist Todd Blackinton served as moderators.

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